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Abuse comes in many shapes and form. And the notion of consent can be easily subverted. Antonio Gomez started as a student at the prestigious Aula de Teatre drama school of Lleira, a medium-sized city in the Northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia. He eventually became a popular teacher and then a director. During his ascension to an indisputable position of power he implemented very unorthodox “acting” techniques involving the hypersexualisation of his teenage pupils (mostly female teenagers aged 14 to 16). Students were actively encouraged to kiss, grope and emulate sexual acts on each other. He went much even further: he took advantaged of his popularity and manipulation skills in order to have sex with many of the girls, and even with some of his colleague teachers. His behaviour was of general knowledge within the School, and yet nobody dared to challenge him.
The story is almost entirely narrated from the perspective of the manifold victims, in talking heads style. Their statements and confessions are interspersed with footage of the group’s classes and excursions, as well as newspaper covers reporting on the groundbreaking techniques of the School, and then later denouncing the extensive pattern of psychological and sexual abuse. Antonio was conveniently supported by his colleague Ruben, who not only helped to facilitate the encounters but also ensured that a false sense of normality prevailed for many years. This is coupled with Antonio’s personal efforts to compliment and reassure his students that everything was ok. He would send the girls kind text messages in the evening, thereby reassuring them that the sexual contact was within the norm. The majority of victims (now women in their 30s) confess that at first they felt “awarded” because they were “the chosen one”, and that they should be to do anything “in the name of theatre”. They would felt dirty and betrayed, yet unable to challenge the powerful institution and their most famous “lecturer”. Antonio is often seen on television boasting about his theatrical achievement, and unique “teaching methods”
In order to demonstrate their unwavering commitment to “art”, students were asked to show their breasts, masturbate and carry out in a variety of libidinous activities. Gomez was so manipulative that he managed to engage in consensual sexual activity with many of the girls in question. Consent was obtained through malicious power games. At one point he undresses one student and penetrates her without a condom. She was paralysed with fear staring at the School’s yellow ceiling above (hence the film title). The age of consent in Spain was just 13 (the lowest in Europe) until 2015, when it was raised to 16. Gomez complained that “only a conservative government could do that”.
It wasn’t until 2019 that these women got together and decided to take action. The problem is that most of his crimes had already prescribed by then, and there was no tangible evidence of his most recent abuse. They continue to form a complainant’s network, and invite more victims to move forward. The second problem is that the Aula de Teatre paid Antonio a compensation of nearly €60,000 (some sort of hush money in order to save the School’s reputation). Antonio fled to Brazil, where he continues to “teach” drama to a group of young girls. A newspaper article suggests that he is in the state of Goias, ironically where Brazil’s most prolific sex offender Joao de Deus raped hundreds of women for decades (his story is the topic of the famous Netflix documentary series John of God: the Crimes of a Spiritual healer). Joao de Deus is under house arrest. Gomez is still fully active.
The Spanish filmmaker attempts to contact Gomez on the telephone, but he refuses to take part in the documentary, cutting the conversation short. This film serves as evidence that women are stronger when they get together, and that film is also a powerful weapon in the battle for justice. Hopefully Gomez’s story won’t end here and that eventually he will be duly punished for the many years of criminal conduct.
The Yellow Ceiling is showing in the Official Competition of the 70th San Sebastian International Film Festival/ Donostia Zinemealdia